LITTLE Alba Moss squints through swollen eyes, her tiny body bloated and covered in a horrific rash, as she battles the killer measles virus.
The 12-month-old – who was too young to have had the first dose of the MMR vaccine – spent eight days seriously ill in hospital after contracting the deadly disease.
Her mum Jilly blames anti-vaxxers for leaving her small daughter exposed.
“Alba was too young for her MMR vaccination when she got sick which meant she has had to fight this killer virus with no immunity,” she tells Fabulous Digital.
“Measles is not just a rash – it can cause blindness, encephalitis and pneumonia. We need to do more people. Get your children vaccinated.”
Spike in deadly measles cases
Sadly, Alba, who fell ill last April, is far from alone in her terrifying ordeal – in August, the UK lost its measles-free status amid a spike in cases of the disease.
Yet despite the number of cases in England having risen six-fold since 2014, a new anti-vaxx film backed by a disgraced doctor is now set to be screened in the country.
Controversial film screening
The documentary, titled Vaxxed II: The People's Truth, will be shown at a council-owned Grade II-listed former church in Notting Hill, west London, later this month.
Produced by British mum and anti-vaxx campaigner Polly Tommey, it peddles discredited claims about childhood jabs, which it links to autism and other conditions.
"Interviews of parents and doctors with nothing to gain and everything to lose exposed the vaccine injury epidemic," reads an online synopsis of the documentary.
The film is backed by anti-vaxx figurehead Andrew Wakefield – a disgraced former gastroenterologist and the boyfriend of supermodel Elle Macpherson, 55.
Wakefield – who features in the documentary's trailer – was stripped of his medical licence in 2010 after falsely linking the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine and autism.
Myths "putting kids' lives at risk"
Yet despite campaigners warning that Vaxxed II's "misleading" claims are putting "children's lives at risk", the screening on January 26 has already sold out.
The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea told the Daily Mail that the venue is being hired out privately for the screening, and it doesn't plan to intervene.
But Michael Marshall, of the non-profit Good Thinking Society, warned the newspaper: "In our work we see a huge amount of anti-vaccination misinformation spreading through social media where these claims propagate. Films like this contribute to that climate."
Public Health England warns that measles – which remains endemic in many countries worldwide – is a "highly infectious disease which can only be controlled by vaccination".
While Alba recovered from her shocking case, many other sufferers aren't so fortunate.
37 killed in six months
More than 41,000 people across Europe were infected with measles in the first six months of 2018 alone, leading to 37 deaths.
Another 231 were diagnosed in the first three months of 2019.
Vaccination rates, meanwhile, have dropped steadily to 87.2 per cent – a level not high enough to provide widespread immunity.
On Facebook, some parents are fuelling anti-vaxx myths from their homes, sharing "vaccination injury stories" and grisly pictures of pigs in abattoirs.
Celebrity mums are peddling the dangerous anti-jab message too, with the likes of Melinda Messenger, Jenny McCarthy and Kristin Cavallari all choosing not to vaccinate their children.
The UK 'near-epidemic'
The rise in measles is now on the brink of causing an epidemic in London schools – with leading doctors calling for the MMR jab to be made a legal requirement for students.
But who is to blame for the deadly rise?
The responsibility falls largely at the feet of so-called "anti-vaxx" groups – an increasingly powerful lobby dedicated to scaring parents into stopping their children taking the optional, though NHS recommended, combined MMR jab.
But these aren’t people chaining themselves to parliament to make a point; these are women you see at the school gates, like Surrey-based parent Anna Watson, who openly boasts about fellow parents she has convinced to take the 'all-natural' route and questions facts and medical advice on vaccinations.
Making anti-vaxx go viral
On social media, mums like Anna will see gruesome picture of dead pigs strung up in an abattoir and share them.
To a passerby it’s tempting to assume it’s a page dedicated to highlighting animal rights issues. Only the caption underneath shows it’s something very different.
"This is where autism begins," reads one caption. "Glyphosate-drenched factory pig bones used to make the MMR virus. And parents want to inject these into babies?"
It’s among many deliberately provocative pictures on social media pages all trumpeting a similar theme.
Another shows pictures of seriously ill children lying in hospital cots – victims, according to the caption, of side effects they suffered after receiving the MMR vaccine.
Fact vs Fiction
The MMR vaccine is traditionally given in two doses, the first dose at 12 through 15 months of age, and the second dose at four through six years.
On the flip side, the anti-vaxx movement dates back to 1998, when Wakefield published a study claiming to have found a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
That study has now been entirely discredited – yet the harmful myth the ex-physician created linking the vaccination with other illnesses still persists.
While public health bodies estimate that 20 million measles cases and 4,500 deaths have been prevented since 1968 in the UK because of the vaccination, an ever growing number of social media sites broadcast an alternate reality: that the vaccinations themselves cause illness and death.
In February last year, it was reported that eight of the top 12 Facebook groups which came up with the search ‘vaccination’ advocated against vaccines.
What do GPs say?
GP and author Dr Ellie Cannon says: "Anti-vaccine mothers watch YouTube, look at FB memes and hear stories at school gates and they think that knowledge and 'research' is the equivalent of a medical degree and research.
They hold spurious anecdotes with the same weight as advice given by Public Health England or the Royal College of Paediatrics.
There’s a huge imbalance between what scientific research and data says to the lies being shared online.
A large number of the childhood immunisations protect against meningitis, parents need to understand that.
Millions of people have been vaccinated worldwide and have been fine.
The numbers of those who claim there’s an autism link to MMR or claim they have had ‘vaccine injuries’ is under 100.
Measles can be a fatal illness either straight away or 10-15 years down the line with a condition called Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE).
The initial illness caused by the measles virus can go away but 10 -15 years later SSPE can occur which is a fatal vegetative state.
I don’t think anti-vaxx mums realise this can come later in life.
They don’t realise the potential consequences to their actions.
Measles can also cause deafness and meningitis.
Vaccine refusers only make up 2% of parents and latest studies done by Public Health England show there’s, thankfully, still tremendous trust in vaccinations with health professionals."
One of the most popular was Arnica Parents Support Network – with 38,000 members.
Founded in 2007 by Anna Watson, it claims to help mums like her sift through "the mountain of conflicting evidence" about vaccines and publicises the rising number of parents choosing not to immunise.
“I can now walk to ten families who have chosen to not vaccinate,” Anna boasts.
Common posts on the site include questions from parents asking for "natural things kiddos can take to prevent measles".
Some users recommend nothing but vitamins – and one mum says: “You want your children to contract these benign childhood illnesses. That’s the point.”
The Arnica Facebook group has a sister website – arnica.org.uk – which sells badges, carries adverts and requests donations – something it has in common with many similar sites, many of which carry advertising and have donation link buttons, although it’s not made clear in any instance where the money is going.
So-called 'vaccine injuries'
Fellow anti-vaxx website VINE – the Vaccine Information Network – also has a donation button.
Like others in the same vein, it is designed to shock, populated with endless scare stories, including a section on "Vaccine Injuries" showing horrendous pictures of sick babies lying in hospital cots with wires attached, detailing horrific stories of alleged injuries.
One of the site’s administrators, Charisse claims her son was harmed by his vaccines like "countless other children".
“Have you researched vaccines? I did,” she says. “I learnt all safety trials were fraudulent so essentially any child receiving a vaccine is a guinea pig.
"I also looked at the ingredients like aluminium and found this has never been proven safe to inject into human life let alone babies with a developing immune system.
"The science does not support vaccination and has not done so throughout history.”
On the same site Carla Moscatelli writes that her son Luka was a perfectly normal baby before having his vaccines at 18 months – at which point, she claims, he suffered irreversible physical and neurological injuries.
“My son has no functional language and he is in speech therapy since March 2017,” she writes, which is heartbreaking for any parent to read.
“My son is always sick, screaming/crying in pain."
Of course, while it’s understandable that desperate mums often want answers to their child’s illnesses, none of these claims have been held up to medical scrutiny.
There's only a small disclaimer, tucked away at the bottom of VINE’s home page, which makes the reality clear: that no-one on the site is a medical professional.
“We do not give medical advice as we are not GPs,” it reads.
“We merely provide information and research studies surrounding vaccination to enable parents to make a fully informed decision.”
Lack of certifiable medical knowledge doesn’t stop the anti-vaxxers making ever more ludicrous boasts.
Vaccine Awareness Network founder Joanna Karpasea-Jones– who claims her five children and three grandchildren are unvaccinated and entirely free of health issues – says one of her kids contracted what "looked like measles" after sitting next to a baby who'd just had his MMR.
“I suspected that was from shedding,” writes the 42-year-old, from Nottingham, peddling yet more misinformation to other parents on Facebook.
“MMR sheds for 21 days and flu nasal vaccine sheds for 28 days and is capable of being passed to others just via breathing according to one study.”
We are working to tackle vaccine misinformation on Facebook by reducing its distribution and providing people with authoritative information on the topic.
Statements like these have led to many calling for Facebook to stop the spread of misinformation.
Monika Bickert, VP, Global Policy Management at Facebook, insists they are closely policing and investigating such groups.
Among other things, they are reducing the ranking of groups and pages that spread misinformation about vaccinations and they also may remove access to their fundraising tools.
“We are working to tackle vaccine misinformation on Facebook by reducing its distribution and providing people with authoritative information on the topic,” Bickert says.
Symptoms of measles
Measles is a highly infectious viral illness that can be very unpleasant and sometimes lead to serious complications.
It can be prevented by having the MMR vaccine – which is not linked to autism or any other condition.
Anyone can get measles if they haven't been vaccinated or haven't had it before, although it's most common in young children.
Symptoms can feel a bit like flu or a really bad hangover, but it's absolutely crucial that you recognise them early on and get treated.
Measles can lead to fatal conditions like pneumonia and encephalitis.
Signs to watch out for include:
- cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose, sneezing and a cough
- sore, red eyes that may be sensitive to light
- a high temperature (fever), which may reach around 40C (104F)
- small greyish-white spots on the inside of the cheeks
- a red-brown blotchy rash that starts on the head or upper neck and spreads downwards
The rash isn't always present so don't wait until it develops.
You can find out more about the MMR vaccine here.
In the real world meanwhile, the issue has dominated discussions at the school gate and led to angry exchanges on social media.
Many parents point out that the children of the anti-vaxxers benefit from ‘herd immunity’ – a form of indirect protection from infectious disease that occurs when a large percentage of a population has been rendered to an infection, thereby providing a measure of protection for individuals who are not.
But that only works while a vast majority of children are vaccinated – something that is now, as we have seen, under threat.
And, as Alba's mum Jilly warns: "The MMR does not cause life threatening issues like measles does.
“Your babies might feel under the weather for a day or so but believe me you’d accept that over what we have been through."
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